Betatakin Ruins – Navajo National Monument, AZ

We’d heard about Betatakin Ruins, an ancient ancestral Puebloan settlement, from Eric and Laurel who had hiked it a couple of years ago.  Reading her post about the guided hike piqued our interest in the tightly-protected ruins.  Fortunately we were able to work this great hike into our plans as we passed through the area again on our way to Monument Valley.

Off we went early one morning, thinking we’d just drive around to explore the monument, since ranger-guided hikes were not scheduled to begin until May (according to their website).

Location of Navajo National Monument

As usual we stopped at the visitor center upon our arrival, and I was happy to learn there would be a guided hike due to the large number of people who had requested one that morning.  Ranger guide Jimmy Black was rounded up to take the group into the canyon just a few minutes after we arrived – how’s that for perfect timing!

Instead of describing our experience, I urge you to read Laurel’s excellent account of the hike.  We had the same guide, the same strenuous hike 3 miles out and back, and the same ruins as our destination.  The only difference was that Laurel and Eric had hiked it in the fall, while we were here for a springtime trek.

Betatakin Canyon

Navajo National Monument is off the beaten path, uncrowded and quiet.  It protects three cliff dwellings which contain some of the best ruins on the Colorado Plateau.  Betatakin and Keet Seel (a 17-mile hike) are seasonally open to the public, while Inscription House has been closed due to its fragility.

Betatakin Ruin
Nestled in Betatakin canyon is a relict Aspen tree forest
Steps, steps, steps – around 800 of them!
Betatakin Ruins
In an alcove on the canyon floor, Jimmy described how Navajo traditions are important in ceremonies and rituals
Betatakin ruins
Gambel Oak trees screen the ruins
In Navajo Betatakin means “House built on a ledge,” while Hopi’s call it Talastima, meaning “place of the blue corn tassels”
Betatakin Ruin
The westernmost structures were under the immense south-facing sandstone arch
Betatakin was constructed of sandstone, mud, mortar and wood
The 125-room cliff dwelling consisted of rooms used for food storage, living and ceremonies
Notice the intact roof ladders and earthen roofs
Jimmy used his laser pointer to highlight several petroglyphs
Betatakin was built between 1267 and 1286 in an enormous alcove measuring 452′ high and 370′ across
As is common for cliff dwellings, the site was built in the deep alcove of a south-facing canyon wall
Jimmy described the patterns weaved into baskets used for religious ceremonies and traditional weddings.  Each basket has a distinct pattern of representation.
The overlook on the edge of the canyon used to view the ruins – hiking down to them was a way better experience!
Passing through a thicket of sumac branches, used in basket weaving
Walking across Aspen woodland
What went down had to go back up – way up!
Betatakin Ruin
The last person out was responsible for locking the gate
Looking down at a small section of the stairway
Catching our breath after climbing those steps

We were tired when we reached the top of the mesa.  The hike down and up was strenuous, as advertised.  That’s why Jimmy had made sure at the beginning that nobody had any hip, knee, heart or respiratory problems, or recent surgery.  He did a great job of gauging the right speed for the group and when to stop for rest.

It was a tough hike, but the Betatakin Ruins were totally worth the effort!

Navajo National Monument protects a landscape of water-carved canyons that housed Ancestral Puebloan people for several centuries




  1. Oh, yay, you made it to Betatakin! Your panoramic photo of the ruins is wonderful. You’re right, although it’s beautiful to see the ruins from above, it’s entirely different to experience them from below. How fortunate that you also had Jimmy as your guide. I’ll always remember the stories he told us. I think his laser pointer is new, haha!

    Thanks for taking us back to this magical place, and for sharing the link to our blog. 🙂

  2. What great luck to have a tour heading out when you stopped by. We skipped it when going through because we were too early in the season for the hike. Guess I should have called! You’d think they would rather do this climb in cooler weather rather than summer. Seeing the ruins at ground level would so much better than the rim. What beautifully preserved ruins!

  3. What an awesome opportunity, MonaLiza! Glad you guys were able to take advantage of that hike! It’s definitely a place that we would like to visit. 😊

  4. A real WOW experience! The ruins are so extensive and beautifully preserved. Seeing it with such a small group and an experienced guide was just perfect. Thanks for taking us along.

  5. Clearly it was meant to be that you would be there in time for an unscheduled hike of this wonderful ruins. I sort of think all of these ruins should have a Native guide to talk about the traditions and put the place in context. Your pictures are fantastic Mona Liza and I’m so happy to see Steve having no trouble at all. This is a place I would love to visit. Not sure if the strenuous climb would be something David could do. Thanks for the map showing just where it is in relationship to all the other wonderful things to see in that area.

  6. Absolutely beautiful! So glad you got to experience this! Another place for my bucket list!

  7. A guided hike to the Betatakin ruins is on our travel list as well. So glad you were there at the right time MonaLiza. Your photos are wonderful!

  8. We were on that magical hike with you (and that’s where we met). That has been one of my favorite experiences since we’ve been on the road. Jimmy Black was the best guide ever. The hike back up was brutal (for me).

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